Nikon 950 Digital Camera

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SUMMARY: The Nikon Coolpix 950 is expensive (although now about $700 as a discontinued item), but for macro and web pictures – tough to beat.

Nikon 950

The Nikon swivels so you adjust it to just about any position; it looks strange but it’s actually very ergonomic.

This is not going to be a complete review of the Nikon Coolpix 950 – I have included links below which will give you a much better review than I could write. What I want to do here is give you an my impressions of a great digital camera and what to expect.

Just by way of background, I have been a serious photographer for a long time and have my own darkroom, so I am going to contrast digital against the traditional photography world.

As a photographer, I have been following digital camera developments closely, waiting for quality to get to the point where it bears a close resemblance to film. We’re still not there yet, but it’s to the point where, if you know what the limitations are, you can get darn good results.

First, what are your picture taking objectives? If all you want are good snapshots and you’re not going to enlarge pictures, then the current crop of digital cameras are going to do you just fine. Remember, however, you will need a good color printer if you want hard copies. If all you want is pictures to show on TV, I think any camera in the $300-$500 range will do.

20 Detail

An example of the Nikon’s macro capabilities.

My objective was driven by one major item: Macro. I knew that I was going to be taking closeups of a lot of small items, so that drove my selection criteria. Of all the cameras I researched, only the Nikon had what I wanted; it can focus as close as 0.8″ (inches) to the subject. That should cover just about any situation I could foresee.

Now I also have to admit to a bias here – my film cameras are Nikons, so I was pre-disposed to them. Nikon glass is one of the best and the lens of the 950 does not disappoint – first class.

So I did the Pricewatch thing and purchased one. As I used it, I rapidly found that there are extras you need:

Now the hidden extras:

  • AC Converter ($50): Batteries – HA! Digital cameras LOVE batteries – eat them up with wild abandon. Typically you get something like an hour out of a set of four AAs. I’m sure the battery makers are really the ones pushing digital cameras. For my use (mostly indoor shots), I use the AC Converter all the time – a must-have.

    If you are going to use the camera outside, think Nickel Metal Hydride Batteries (about $30 with charger). Forget NICADS – not enough juice. A must-have.

  • Flash (about $100): If you like red-eye, you must LOVE on-camera flash. The Nikon is a good example of this basically useless addition to cameras – OK only for people (or animals) who do not look into the lens. For what I do, it is almost useless as I get close to the subject – the flash is off center to the lens, and the closer you get, the more uneven the illumination.

    Luckily I have a good flash that I use with a tripod to take my closeups – a tripod is not absolutely required, but it sure helps. An off-camera flash is a must-have.

  • Memory Cards (32MB about $75): Digital cameras will ship with a memory card of totally insufficient size – maybe 8 MB. Unless you travel with a PC where you can download a full card, you will wind up buying extra cards. Depending on resolution (how large an image), you can get something like 400 low-res images on a 32 MB card, or 6 hi-res TIFF images. Outside the house, you need at least 64 MB.
  • Memory Card Reader (about $65): Digital Cameras also ship with a serial (now USB) cable so you can download images. Forget it – you’ll spend more time waiting for images to download into some useless thumbnail program than you can imagine. A card reader will allow you to access images directly from Photoshop; when you install the reader, Windows looks at it like another disk drive – simple, fast, effective. Load images directly into Photoshop and you’re off and running. BIG must-have.
  • Image Processing Software (about $100): Don’t even think of getting a digital without some serious digital imaging program. That’s the real fun – being able to manipulate the image so your wife has your moustache. Another must-have (the software, not the moustache).

So, add about another $500 to the camera’s price (depending on what you might have already) to get yourself into it.

In addition, let’s take a look at some limitations:

  • Enlargements: You must be kidding. The more you enlarge a digital image, the larger the pixels get and you lose the image. This is not molecules of silver; CCDs elements are like boulders compared to silver’s grains of sand. I can take 1/3 of a good 35mm negative and get a very sharp 8×10 out of it. Cropping and enlarging a digital image is about impossible. You must do all your framing and cropping in the viewfinder as much as possible.
  • Prints: Same thing applies – traditional prints are based on molecules of silver. An inkjet does not have the same resolution. You can get superb prints with a good dye-sub printer, but be prepared to spend at least $1,000.
  • Rapid Fire: Digital cameras have to “think” after they take a shot – don’t think you can press off 10 frames/sec with one (although they are getting better). Depending on the camera, there may also be a lag from when you press the shutter to when it fires. Sometimes picture taking with a digital is a bit more “planned” than you might like.

  • Setting Features: If you’re thinking a serious digital camera is like a serious film camera, you’ve got a shock coming. Digitals are more computer like than any film camera you’ve seen. Features are selected off a menu on a small LCD; rapidly changing a feature is not like twirling a knob – very hard to do on the fly. Not a problem for the computer literate, a BIG problem for mom. Lesser capable models probably don’t have this problem, but they are just that – capable of doing less.

These are my thoughts based on using the Nikon for the last six months. Many of the images on the site were taken with the Nikon, and for me it is an indispensible tool. I must also mention that taking a shot and getting an edited picture onto the site in about 10 minutes is now an absolute must-have for me.

If you’re seriously thinking of getting one, put up with some of the inconveniences I outlined and spend the money on the best one you can get. The camera is like speakers in a stereo system – more quality is better and very noticeable. Once you get it, you’re hooked.

Below are links to digital camera magazines, forums and related sites of interest:

Digital Camera Links Galore
Nikon’s site

Megapixel.net: Digital camera magazine

Digital Photography Review: Digital camera magazine with great forums dedicated to many camera models
Imaging Resources Magazine
Photopoint: Digital camera magazine
B&H Photo – THE photographers store.
ShortCourses: A selection of courses on digital cameras

Update 10/23/00:

(Comment by Nathan Garber)

I liked your review of the Nikon Digital camera, but I have one point to
make.

You said, “Rapid Fire: Digital cameras have to “think” after they take a shot –
don’t think you can press off 10 frames/sec with one (although they are getting
better). Depending on the camera, there may also be a lag from when you
press the shutter to when it fires. Sometimes picture taking with a
digital is a bit more “planned” than you might like.”

This is mostly not due to the camera, but rather the flash media speed. If you
get Lexar High speed flash, it will allow pictures to be taken much faster.

The way they do this is they have a cache of high speed SRAM on the flash
card, so after you take the picture, the card automatically moves the image
to regular memory.

The Lexar website seems down right now (ED note: still down), but there are several places
selling it, with the specs for the ones they sell. here is one:

Here is one.

Keep up the great work.

(ED. note: Thanks for the tip, Nathan!

Email Joe


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